Open Source

Major game players come to Linux and GNOME grasps at relevance

What would you say if I said GNOME was becoming irrelevant and games were coming to Linux? Both seemed improbable. Could 2012 wind up being a milestone year for Linux?

That is one headline I never thought I'd type.  I'm not really that much of a gamer, so the first part never captured my attention as much — but the recent announcement that video game developer Valve would port its games to Linux made me rethink the possible conequences. The second part? Suffice it to say, I never thought I'd see the GNOME desktop struggling like it has.

Let's deal with GNOME first.

I started using the GNOME desktop when it was still in beta. It suffered from some growing pains, but eventually the GNOME desktop became one of the best of the best. But then, as is inevitable within the world of the desktop PC, change occurred. Now, I am one that eagerly welcomes change. I like to switch it up — and do so consistently. I was pleased that the GNOME developers took the desktop metaphor into a completely different and unknown space.

But the vast majority of end users didn't see it that way. And, in the end, even welcoming users like myself found the GNOME 3 desktop to be lacking in some areas. This was a huge turn of events, seeing as how when Ubuntu Unity first arrived the initial reviews panned the desktop for being a horrible mistake. Now it seems that turn-around has become the name of the game. Unity has become one of the more efficient desktops and GNOME 3 — well, has been showing signs of irrelevance.

And now the GNOME developers are making their 20/20 claim— they want twenty percent of the desktop by 2020. This is a rather bold claim, considering GNOME 4 will only be a tweak or two away from GNOME 3, and by 2020, Ubuntu Unity will probably be the de facto standard on most Linux desktops and tablets.

What the GNOME developers are failing to see is that, as they spit-shine and polish the GNOME 3 desktop so that it's incredibly stable (and it is), it still seriously lacks in efficiency. So instead of tweaking GNOME 3 for GNOME 4, they might consider ways to make GNOME 4 a bit more efficient (add something akin to the Unity Launcher or some such).

Of course, we all could see this coming. What we couldn't see coming is Valve announcing they were going to port Steam to Linux. What is Steam? Steam is the gaming platform that makes games like Left For Dead, Ghost Recon, Borderlands, and more happen. Valve decided to port the engine to Linux because of what they are claiming will be the "Windows 8 Catastrophe".  Valve sees the upcoming Windows release as an impending doom that will drive top-tier PC makers away from the market and be a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space. To this end, they have decided to port Steam to Linux and have a fully featured Steam engine for Ubuntu 12.04. The first game to come to Linux will be Left For Dead 4.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't previously put much stock in the gaming industry with regards to pushing the desktop forward. After reading about what Valve had to say about the situation, I have rethought that stance. But my stance isn't so much about how the gaming industry drives desktop software, as much as it is that they drive desktop hardware. No, this isn't a thought that is even remotely groundbreaking or new, but to the world of Linux — it is. The possibility that games could begin a slow migration to the Linux platform means that hardware vendors would be forced to open up the specs for their hardware. This means the Linux distributions would benefit greatly and could grow leaps and bounds, faster and farther than the Windows platform.

The fully-functioning Valve for Linux will arrive by the end of 2012. Games will follow. This could mean great things for Linux in 2013. First it could start with the gaming industry and then, thanks to the collateral damage done by Windows 8, the desktop.

What do you think? Can GNOME manage to pull itself out of the dark pit of irrelevance and can the release of Valve to Linux make a major impact for the Linux desktop? Me? I think GNOME is going to have to do some major rethinking of its current working metaphor before it can once again gain traction. As for the adoption of Linux by Valve? Well, only time will tell... but I believe this will be one giant leap forward for the acceptance of Linux on the desktop.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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